Murmur of the Heart (1971)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Period Film, Sex Comedy  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - France, Italy, West Germany  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Murmur of the Heart is a film of rare grace and easygoing charm; while its content could seem shocking in the hands of other filmmakers, Louis Malle allows us to see it as a fond remembrance of what it's like to be a 15-year-old boy. Laurent, played with perfectly bemused aplomb by Benoit Ferreux, shoplifts jazz records, indulges in his father's wine and cigars when Dad's not around, masturbates, and almost loses his virginity to a prostitute, but Malle never mines this material for shock value. Instead, Laurent is presented as a typical adolescent adrift between childish impulsiveness and adult appetites and responsibilities. While much has been made of Laurent's incestuous contact with his free-spirited mother Clara (played by Lea Massari with a warm and playful sensuality), Clara never acts much like a mother to begin with; considerably younger than her husband, given to flings with other men, and more conspiratorial than disciplinary when she catches her sons stealing money from her purse, Clara behaves more like a friend and confidante than a parental authority. Clara knows that what's happened between her and Laurent is neither appropriate nor healthy, but she also sees it as an act of affection that need not damage either of them for life. This moment is consistent with the rest of film, which is less about a boy who behaves badly and must be punished than about about a person finding his way through the tricky labyrinths of adulthood; if he makes some mistakes, that's to be expected. The superb music of Charlie Parker and Sidney Bechet provides the perfect cues for the movie's tone. Dozens of films have been made about teenage angst, but Murmur of the Heart has more to say about the fun and mysteries along the way to adulthood.